Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong’s most obnoxious expat

21-27 July 2002
Sun, 21 Jul

Visit Ben, Hong Kong's second most obnoxious expat, all the way out in Sai Kung.  (Why can't people just live in Central?) 

Since my last visit, he has got together with young gold-digger Rainbow again, then ditched her again, then threatened to sue her for not paying any rent while they were living together.  Meanwhile, he has developed a taste for newly arrived Mainland immigrant women with babies strapped to their backs, secured by strings that cross their fronts and project their breasts through their loose shirts. "To help my Mandarin, you see," he claims with a straight face. After a bottle of his favourite Beaujolais it emerges that of the three he has bedded so far, one was a deaf mute who used only sign language, and the other two demanded payment.  (I say bedded.  He starts to explain how the act is performed standing up, with the baby still in its papoose, but I hastily change the subject.)

Back in civilization, an interesting study in the way failure and success ignore privilege. An old male streetsleeper snoozing on a bench outside the Irish pub Dublin Jack, wearing a Yale t-shirt – not the first alumnus of that institution to end up in the gutter, of course, but a sign of the times.  Meanwhile, just yards away, a middle-aged Filipina – one of a group of domestic helpers – intently studying the Asian markets section of yesterday's Financial Times, apparently satisfied with the performance of her investments in the face of economic turbulence.

Mon, 22 July

Discard classifieds, sport and features sections of the
Morning Post, unread, as per usual morning ritual.  Notice one Vivienne Chow is still producing the vacuous column "Karaoke Generation".  Retrieve it from the bin for a quick scan and find the topic is... paying rent to parents.  I must be missing something.  Is the banality the message?  Is the very absence of meaningful fact or opinion a carefully contrived observation of the sad and pitiful way things are?  As the features section falls back into the bin, it occurs to me that we may never know.

Tue, 23 Jul

Market dips below 10,000 and promptly bounces back.  As a buyer and not a seller, I would like it to stay down for months, but judging by the way the herd has been selling in recent days in fits of gloom and panic, this is it – the upturn is almost upon us.  Would like to be wrong.

Henry Tang, the horse-faced Secretary of Commerce, Trade and Industry, drops into S-Meg Tower on a courtesy visit.  After his 10-minute mutual shoe-shining session with the Big Boss, I have the honour of escorting him in the lift down to the basement car park. I have 20 seconds.   "Mr Tang, what's all this about Hong Kong companies getting tax incentives and other handouts to encourage them to do R&D?"  He raises his eyebrows.  "Well," he solemnly intones, "in Singapore and Taiwan, the private sector accounts for a much higher proportion of R&D investment.  Here, the government provides 80% of R&D funding."  I put on a pained expression designed to convey an intense but unsuccessful attempt to grasp the logic.  "Umm..  incentives are just another form of government funding, aren't they?"  His turn to look puzzled.  "And anyway, Mr Tang, Singapore and Taiwan have large military sectors, which surely account for much of the R&D."  The 20 seconds is up, and he steps out of the lift to his limo mumbling something about it just being an idea. 

Wed, 24 Jul

Hong Kong officials conned by mouse. Shanghai might build a Disneyland, therefore Hong Kong is doomed. Full details at ten.  Of course, in reality, a tacky theme park on the Yangtze won't make the slightest difference to HK's economy.  Disneyland was always going to be a white elephant, with the costs outweighing the benefits.  The whole saga highlights two things.  First, the stupidity of a panic-stricken government not thinking things through as it makes desperate money-wasting attempts to prove itself to the Hong Kong people.  Second, the apparent inadequacy of Hong Kong as a whole – psychologically dependent on monopolies, favours and privileges, unable to imagine making money by competing.

Thur, 25 Jul

Spend afternoon with Morris, Scotland's finest contribution to local law enforcement since Jardines were beheading pirates for attempting to steal their precious chests of opium.  While waiting for him at the Captain's Bar in the Mandarin Hotel, I order a "
gunner".  I would not normally be seen dead ordering or drinking the ginger beer/ale/bitters mix, as it is the favoured non-alcoholic tipple of the male expat junk-trips-and-Rugby-Sevens brigade, with their polo shirts and fat, Essex-born wives. But no-one is watching.

Morris strolls in with a broad grin waving a sheet of paper.  "Christmas in Baghdad!" he announces with glee, as if he had won a holiday for two in a lottery.  It's a letter from the British Ministry of Defence requesting that he, as a reservist with specialist skills, be available for mobilization from October onwards. I express surprise that the allies will be needing experts in the humane destruction of animals when the time comes to relieve the Iraqi leadership of its responsibilities.  He looks serious.  "Something ah picked up on secondment in the Gulf in the early 80s."  Furtive glance around in case of eavesdroppers.  He leans closer, tapping nose.  "Interrogation techniques."   Ah yes. Past discussions come back to me.  The hand-cranked telephone and the crocodile clips.  Well, it will make a change from eating turkey and opening presents.